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Monday, April 28, 2014

Working the Senses - How Much Sensory Information do you Give your Players?

Saturday night's game session turned into a bullshit session, and one of the topics that came up was sensory information - smells, touch, visual and audio.

It got me thinking - we tell the players what they see and often tell them what they hear, but how often do we tell them what they smell? (touch always seems to be the odd one out)

Even when I described my first crime scene, with the brains and blood having the appearance of raspberry jam, I didn't include the smell of gunpowder and copper that just wouldn't leave my nose even hours later. The visual is burned into my memories and is easy to bring forward, but the smells kick in on their own when something "dings" that memory.

Just wondering if occasionally adding another sense to sight and sound might be the way to immerse the players just a wee bit more...

(post 4k is next)


  1. One of my players is blind, so touch and smell mean more to her. Since she started playing, it would be fair to say that my descriptions have got a lot better!

  2. I've always tried to add sensory perceptions that were relevant to the situation. There are times when I might forget, but the players ask good questions and that helps me give them more information. Smell is a huge. Taste not so much, because...well the stuff has been sitting around for who knows how long and who knows where its been. Touch can be a good one that's not used all that often, again, maybe its just my guys, but they are paranoid to touch anything.

  3. One of the important things about the non-visual senses is that because they show up so frequently, when they DO show up, they're always important. Hearing and smell are probably great ones to always ask what's going on.

    This is doubly true for hearing when it comes to modern games - guns are LOUD, and carry a long way. Even a suppressed ("silenced") weapon is about 10x softer than a crazy-loud noise (about -25 to -30dB, if you must know).

    anyway, too sleepy to be coherent, but by making sound and smell rolls more frequent, you can ensure that when they are important, they're not unduly called out.

    1. What he said, except more coherent. :)

      I'm very careful to mention what you see and smell in my games, a little less on hearing (although oddly I'm always careful to track how far sound travels.) I need to correct that, honestly, but as much as I track the sounds the players make, I'm terrible about mentioning ambient sounds.

    2. Yeah: "because they show up so INFREQUENTLY" would have made more sense, eh?

  4. When I build an encounter I always try to remember smell. Sight and sound are the primary human senses and I rarely forget them. Smell goes unnoticed in most normal situations. In fact, noticing a smell is often the first sign of something being out of place. It is surprising how frequently just asking "what would they smell" can result in an interesting answer. Trolls reek, torches smoke, animals defecate, mold smells...moldy. It can also be a good time to shine the spotlight on a nonhuman character, simply by giving the scent description to him before the others notice it.

  5. I'm better about remembering scent and tactile descriptions when I'm running Call of Cthulhu.

  6. To mix things up a bit, I use a randomizer to determine what sense (or senses) to use in any given description along with adjectives and adverbs particularly for the senses I'm using. Using that combination, I give my brain a bit of a kickstart in whatever context I'm using. That's how my Little Spaces products from Moebius Adventures were kicked off (a Big Book compilation product is being released tomorrow actually), and all of those products follow that approach. It helps keep me on my toes and not always use the same language over and over.

    Here's an example of the approach: http://blog2.moebiusadventures.com/2014/02/28/little-spaces-design-abandoned-places/